Parksville residents rally in opposition to proposed aquatic and recreation centre site

Coun. Doug O'Brien speaks at a rally opposed to the proposed site for the Parksville Aquatic and Recreation Centre at the end of Despard Avenue. || Photo by Kevin Forsyth
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Dozens of Parksville residents rallied in opposition to the proposed location for the Parksville Aquatic and Recreation Centre on June 12. 

The organizers said they are concerned about the impact the project could have on the Parksville Wetlands, north of the site.

City councillor Doug O’Brien spoke to the crowd and encouraged them to voice their opposition to city council. He said he was concerned about the effects the building could have on the trees, aquifer and watershed.

“That’s why so many people are passionate about what we could possibly lose. Every other municipality in Canada is falling over themselves to protect green space. This decision is going the opposite way, it’s going the way of the dinosaurs,” O’Brien said.

The city purchased the proposed site from the Ermineskin Cree Nation in 2017, which requested it be maintained as a park in perpetuity.

“I was on council when we purchased this property for $1.3 million dollars. We negotiated with the Ermineskin Band at that time,” said Leanne Salter, director for Regional District of Nanaimo Area F, who also spoke at the rally.

“This is going to fall, not just on this mayor and council if they go ahead, it’s going to fall on everybody in Parksville. What happens if you want to negotiate anything further with the First Nations band?”

The city said, in a news release last week, the wetlands would not be logged and the environmental overview assessment indicated the watercourses in the project area do not interact with the wetland features.

“You can’t just say, ‘we’re leaving the wetland section alone.’ This whole area is wetlands folks. This is all wetlands. This is super critical to the ecology of this area,” said O’Brien.

The area is home to several wells and is a significant source for Parksville’s drinking water supply, according to Trevor Wicks, who spoke at the event and has been concerned about the region’s water supply for years. He said the creeks flowing through the area have already been compromised due to over-extraction of water from the wells.

“In June, the two creeks that contribute water to this wetland should be putting through about 40 litres of water per second and right now, if you stand there and look at the amount of water going through Romney Creek, it’s almost zero,” Wicks said.

O’Brien said he does not believe alternative sites have been studied and considered properly. 

Besides the location at the end of Despard Avenue, potential sites at Parksville Community Park, Island Highway and Pym Street, Wembley Mall, Parksville Elementary School and Tuan Road are under consideration, according to the city’s public engagement website Let’s Talk Parksville.

O’Brien said he would like to see council consider other locations, including the former landfill site at Tuan Road. He said the city could apply for brownfield restoration grants to clean up the area.

“We as a city should be responsible for cleaning up that landfill and removing anything of detriment to the environment out of that landfill.”

The city has signed a contract with Golder-WSP to conduct a preliminary site assessment of a location at the end of Despard Avenue.

Phase one of the assessment will cost $125,000 and will include ecological assessments, a hydrogeological assessment, a geotechnical assessment, a civil engineering assessment and a land analysis report. Golder-WSP is an affiliate branch of WSP Canada and provides specialized hydrogeological and environmental expertise.

“It could be stopped at any time if enough people stand up and say stop it now, we don’t want to spend anymore money on this until we do a study on all the other proposed sites and present it to the people,” said O’Brien.

Parksville residents rallied in opposition to the proposed location at the end of Despard Avenue for the Parksville Aquatic and Recreation Centre on June 12. || Photo by Kevin Forsyth
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